Saturday, January 14, 2017

Anti-Vancian thoughts on the 5e Artificer class

This poor blog is even more neglected than my minis blog, but I'm trying to get back in the swing of hobby blogging, and the newest Unearthed Arcana article gives me an opportunity to do so. It's an Artificer class! Previously the concept was addressed as a UA wizard school, but enough Eberron fans clamored for a unique class that Wizards obliged. Brandes already has a thoughtful review of the class at Tribality, but there was one thing about the class in particular that grabbed me.

The core class gets free magic items, some utility spell casting, and a few other features. Pretty basic, and not especially revolutionary. But take a look at the subclasses, particularly the Alchemist (the other sublcass is the Gunslinger. Seems like it could use some more subclasses, but this is a playtest after all, plus I love the approach of rolling a bunch of Pathfinder class concepts into a single class). How does alchemy work? You get a satchel of components that lets you create one of several alchemical effects, or "formulae". The effects are about what you'd expect; some offensive, like alchemical fire, alchemical acid; and several utility draughts for things like healing and speed. As I was reading, I kept looking for some kind of per-rest limit on these, and that's when I discovered a surprise.

For the most part, there aren't any! There's basically no limit to how often you can create an alchemical effect. For an anti-Vancer like me who's tired of reading the phrase "once per short rest," it's remarkable.

Now just because there's no per-day limit to these effects, that doesn't mean there aren't limits; they're just a lot more clever and interesting than the typical Vancian stuff. For the offensive powers, the alchemist must use a formula the round he creates it, or it "disappears." The fluff here is a little weird—how about the concoction harmlessly destabilizes, or something quasi-sciencey like that?—but the idea is that the alchemist Artificer can't just create infinite firebombs for him and his allies. The utility powers also have a limited shelf life, though over one minute instead of one round, though this seems fiddly and unnecessary to me. Better to me would be that you can only have a few unused formula created at any one time. It's basically the same sort of limitation with way less bookkeeping.

Another interesting limit, for the healing power, is that a creature can't benefit from the effect more than once per long rest. This is a little Vancian, but I'm not sure there's a way to do completely non-Vancian healing, and this way the limit is not on the character using the power, which feels a lot more powerful than an arbitrary cap.

The healing power and other utility powers have some other limits; for example, the "Swift Step Draught" lasts a minute once taken, and the description ends "After using this formula, you can’t do so again for 1 minute." This sounds Vancian, but what it's really saying is that you can't create a formula that's already being used. I don't know why they didn't put it that way, as the way they put it makes it sound like you have to do twice the bookkeeping you actually have to. (By the way, what ever happened to 4e's "roll a dx; the effect ends when you roll a 1"? It seemed like a great way to keep from tediously counting how long all each effect was every round.)

So there are quibbles for the anti-Vancer to make, but it's interesting to see Wizards considering different approaches for managing powers besides the thoughtless "once per short rest." I'd be interested to see if they explore these concepts for other classes.

(By the way, a good non-Vancian homebrew of the Artificer concept is this Engineer class, where powers are basically devices you wear, sort of like magic items. In other words, the limit is based on what you can carry, not necessarily how often you use the effect. It could have gone even further in that anti-Vancian directoin, but it's still pretty cool.)

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